A ten-year revolution had united Mexico under a progressive constitution, but in the 1920s the country remained culturally fragmented. So the government commissioned monumental artworks that celebrated Mexico’s culture and history and valorized its common people—especially the indigenous peasants whom artists saw as representing “the real Mexico,” says Barbara Haskell, curator of a new exhibition focused on Mexican muralists, opening at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art in February. These muralists also inspired a generation of American artists, who admired their heroic depictions of popular struggle. “Most of us grew up thinking that the dominant influence in the U.S. in the 20th century came from France,” Haskell says. But “looking at those decades, 1925 to 1945, what becomes clear is the huge impact of the Mexican muralists, who created images that were accessible, that really meant something, and did it in a very modern way.”

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